Donald Trump seeking new convention venue amid dispute over health and safety

Bryan Anderson, Gary D. Robertson and Jill Colvin, Associated Press

President Donald Trump has announced he is seeking a new state to host this summer’s Republican National Convention after North Carolina refused to guarantee the event could be held in Charlotte without restrictions because of ongoing concerns over Covid-19.

Mr Trump announced the news via tweet, complaining the state’s governor, Democrat Roy Cooper, and other officials “refuse to guarantee that we can have use of the Spectrum Arena” and were not “allowing us to occupy the arena as originally anticipated and promised”.

“Because of @NC_Governor, we are now forced to seek another State to host the 2020 Republican National Convention,” he wrote.

Mr Trump and the Republican National Committee had been demanding that the convention be allowed to move forward with a full crowd and no face coverings, raising alarms in a state that is facing an upward trend in its virus cases, with about 29,900 cumulative cases and 900 deaths as of Tuesday.

Around 700 Covid-19 patients are currently in hospital.

Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is located, accounted for 4,500 cases — more than double the next-highest county — and nearly 100 deaths.

A traditional Republican convention brings together roughly 2,500 delegates, the same number of alternate delegates and many times more guests, journalists and security personnel.

Officials in both parties have been preparing contingency plans for months given the uncertainty and dangers posed by the virus and evolving restrictions on large gatherings meant to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Mr Trump’s announcement came after a call with Mr Cooper in which the president had told Mr Cooper he wanted a traditional convention with a packed arena full of delegates — and with no face coverings to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

During the call, when Mr Trump “insisted on a full convention arena with no face coverings and no social distancing the governor expressed concerns and suggested a scaled back event with fewer attendees”, Cooper spokeswoman Sadie Weiner wrote in an email.

“They agreed to continue talking about ways to have a safe convention in Charlotte.”

But Mr Cooper made clear to Mr Trump that those conditions would likely be impossible to accommodate given the status of the epidemic in his state, and formalised that in a letter to the RNC on the eve of a Wednesday deadline set by the Republicans for assurances from Cooper that he would allow a full-scale event in August.

Mr Cooper wrote to RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel that “planning for a scaled-down convention with fewer people, social distancing and face coverings is a necessity”.

And later he told reporters it was unlikely that virus trends would allow a full-capacity nominating convention for Mr Trump to proceed at Charlotte’s NBA arena.

Donald Trump is hoping to win a second term in the White House (Michelle Devane/PA)

“We think it is unlikely that we would be to the point at the end of August to be able to have a jam-packed 19,000-person convention in the Spectrum arena,” Mr Cooper said.

“So the likelihood of it being in Charlotte depends upon the RNC’s willingness to discuss with us a scaled-down convention.”

That prompted the RNC to say they would begin visiting potential alternative sites in the largely Republican-led states that have offered to host the quadrennial gathering instead.

Ms McDaniel, meanwhile, accused Mr Cooper of “dragging his feet” on giving them guidance for proceeding with convention plans.

President Donald Trump (Patrick Semansky/AP)

While the party would like to hold its event in Charlotte, “we have an obligation to our delegates and nominee to begin visiting the multiple cities and states” that have reached out to express interest in hosting, she said.

The Republican governors of states including Tennessee, Florida and Georgia had said they would be interested in hosting if North Carolina fell through.

Tennessee governor Bill Lee said Republican officials were coming to scout Nashville on Thursday and called the city “the best place in America to have a convention”.

Georgia governor Brian P. Kemp responded to Trump’s announcement by tweeting, “Hope you have Georgia on your mind, @realDonaldTrump!”

The city of Charlotte posted on its Twitter account Tuesday that it had not received any official notification from the RNC and that Baker “will be in contact with the attorneys for the RNC to understand their full intentions.”

Earlier in the day, North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley had acknowledged that some changes would likely be needed, but maintained Republicans wanted a “full-scale” convention.